To younger readers, Peter Sauber’s team in Hinwil is exclusively involved in Formula One racing, but it was not always so. Almost a quarter of a century has passed since he was last involved in Group C sports car racing, his cars powered by BMW and Mercedes engines. Endurance racing was Peter Sauber’s passion, he took on Porsche, Lancia and Jaguar in their prime, and beat them, and successes included victory at Le Mans in 1989. His last sports car race, with Mercedes, in 1991 also resulted in victory, surprising but highly deserved.
Sauber began building sports cars in the 1970s, usually in the 2-litre category, competing in hillclimb championship events, but he became widely noted for building a special version of the BMW M1 sports car in 1981. It had a tubular chassis constructed by a neighbouring company, Seger & Hoffmann, and carbon-fibre bodywork, and was 70 kg lighter than the standard M1. Hans-Joachim Stuck and Nelson Piquet won the ADAC’s 1,000 kilometre race at the Nürburgring on the debut outing, and straight away Dieter Quester ordered another which he raced at Le Mans with Marc Surer. The car was entered by Würth-Lubrifilm Team Sauber, and it ran well until the engine failed on Sunday morning. Engine failures also stopped the three other BMW M1s, so it was no disgrace for the Swiss team.
Sauber formed a consortium to prepare a Swiss challenger for the Group C formula, which started in 1982. Sauber himself designed the C6 model which had a sheet aluminium chassis, and it was constructed by Seger & Hoffmann. Heini Mader was made responsible for preparing the Ford Cosworth 3.9 litre DFL engines and two cars were run in the full World Endurance Championship, one run by GS Tuning for Hans Stuck and Hans Heyer, the other bought by slot machine magnate Walter Brun and run by Sauber, as his ‘works’ car, for Brun and Sigi Müller Jr.
Both cars raced at the first event at Monza, looking striking with single-pillar, delta shaped rear wings. Stuck’s car was sponsored by BASF cassettes and was strongly coloured in red and white pinstripes, while Brun’s car was sponsored by Ford Switzerland. Like many other teams using the Cosworth DFL engines vibrations caused all manner of breakages, and in the first half of the season neither car would finish a race. At Le Mans, Stuck’s Sauber retired on Saturday evening with a broken engine mounting, Brun’s with a failed starter motor.
British specialist John Thompson modified the chassis, mounting the engines on a load-bearing subframe, and the BASF car managed to finish at Spa in September, with the smaller 3.3 litre DFL motor. Brun lost patience with the DFL, though, and installed a 1.7 litre turbocharged BMW engine which proved a good choice. He and Müller drove to fifth place at Mugello, and Stuck actually led the race at Brands Hatch, in pouring rain, before the event was stopped for a collision between the two Ford C100s. Gerhard Schneider’s GS tuning company folded and Brun bought the assets, so he owned both cars.
In 1983 Brun developed the C6 under the Sehcar label, a short-lived venture which exasperated Stuck. In Hinwil, Sauber built the successor C7 model to a similar design, but with bodywork higher between the wheels, and the rear wing was more conventional. Mercedes aerodynamicist Rudiger Faul was responsible for the new body design, and the suspension was designed by BMW engineer Leo Ress. The C7 was designed to take a variety of engines but the only chassis built was powered by BMW’s 3.5 litre straight-six, tuned to 475 bhp in normally aspirated form. The car had a splendid debut at Le Mans, wailing round for the full 24 hours to finish ninth in the hands of IMSA regulars Diego Montoya, Tony Garcia and Albert Naon. So, they prevented a complete rout of the top 10 by Porsche’s 956 sports car, prompting the Stuttgart firm to advertise their 1-8 and 10 success with the admission “Nobody’s perfect!” Later in the ’83 season Fulvio Ballabio and Max Welti drove to 10th place at Fuji, and in 1984 Naon raced the C7 in the IMSA series, finishing 10th in Miami. The C7 then passed to the ownership of ‘Fomfor’ who competed at Mosport in 1985 with a Chevrolet V8 in the back. Uli Bieri and Matt Gysler finished in seventh place.
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by Michael Cotton
Photographs: Archiv Mercedes-Benz, Jimmy Froidevaux, Gerd Stein, Historisches Archiv Porsche AG / Upietz